Some of the most powerful moments for Charlotte's interfaith tourists in Israel this week have involved water.
The Rev. Sharon Doar, who teaches Bible stories to children at Myers Park Baptist, was "awestruck" -- her word -- during the Wednesday boat ride across the Sea of Galilee. She and the rest of the 40-plus pilgrims were on their way to the places where Jesus is said to have given his Sermon on the Mount and fed a crowd of 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes.
"I'll tell those stories so much livelier from now on. I'll just be flipping out," Doar said, tears in her eyes, as the boat sped along on the same sea that give rise to the Gospel story of Jesus walking on water. "I'll now be able to say, 'Guys, I was right there.' To come and follow him is just something."
Before the return boat ride, there was time to linger at the water's edge. Susan Jacobs, the education director at Temple Beth El, scooped up a few rocks from the sea. They'll return with her to Charlotte and be placed on her grave of her father, Ben Jaffa, who died in 2004.
This longstanding Jewish custom is meant to show "that we are still connected to that person," said Jacobs, who has collected rocks all over Israel, especially in Jerusalem. "It's a sign that they are not forgotten and that you are still visiting, still taking care of them."
On Thursday, the body of water that stirred the imagination and brought tears was the Jordan River.
The tour bus traveled into the Palestinian territories to visit a spot sacred to both Jews and Christians. Just across the border from Jordan, it's a modest grassy -- and muddy -- stream that's believed to be where Joshua brought the Israelites and the Ark of the Covenant into the Promised Land more than 3,000 years ago.
"I pictured all the people walking, coming across, thousands of them," said Nancy Romanoff, a member at Temple Beth El whose daughter, Shoshana Gugenheim, is a scribe living in Israel. "I just had this vision. And I was standing here wondering how they felt. If it were me, I would get down and touch the land."
This stretch of the Jordan River -- or the River Jordan, as it's called in some Christian hymns -- is also where John the Baptist is believed to have baptized Jesus just before his public ministry began.
For Peggy Seale, a leader at Myers Park Baptist, it was an opportunity to have her outgoing pastor, the Rev. Steve Shoemaker, baptize her. Born an Episcopalian, she'd been baptized as an infant. But on Thursday, she wanted her Baptist preacher to make the sign of the cross on her forehead with this holy water and tell her that she was God's beloved.
"I just thought: Oh my gosh, what a time to do this. And so I did. And it made me cry," she said. "(The river) wasn't the sight I expected. It was so peaceful . . . so untouched."
-- Tim Funk